- There’s a long list of purported benefits associated with marijuana, but some say it can also help improve endurance during a workout
- Some athletes, like former NFL linebacker Eben Britton, have been open about the perceived fitness benefits of marijuana, but there are still many who are “in the closet” due to the stigma of drug use
Historically speaking, fitness and marijuana have never been considered the best of workout buddies. In fact, you’ve probably thought of them as diametric opposites. In one corner, you had the health and fitness-conscious; in the other, the Cheeto-munching stoners.
But as cannabis laws have relaxed — medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, while recreational marijuana is legal in nine —, we’re seeing a new breed of athlete emerge: the motivated marijuana enthusiast.
“It’s become a social movement,” says Jim McAlpine, founder of the pot-friendly athletic event series the 420 Games, as well as the San Francisco-based, cannabis-friendly gym Power Plant Fitness, which he co-owns with former NFL running-back Ricky Williams. “There are so many of us who are in the closet.”
McAlpine, Williams, and their cohorts are part of a new generation of cannabis user – one that enjoys a highly physical lifestyle not despite the fact that they smoke pot, but because of it.
Pro-pot athletes tend to embrace cannabis for a number of reasons. “It activates your brain and gets you in The Zone,” says McAlpine. “I love to smoke before I ski or mountain bike or go surfing. It puts me in a place of higher focus, the Eye of the Tiger type thing. It’s not for everyone, but for some people who are more athletic and coordinated, it works.”
While coordination and focus might not be the first things that come to mind when you think about the powers of pot, McAlpine isn’t alone in his belief that firing up before a workout can fine-tune an athlete for fitness. According to ex-NFL offensive lineman Eben Britton, who has been vocal about NFL players using cannabis for pain management, smoking pot “connects me mentally and emotionally into my body, which allows me to get a more fulfilling workout.”
Britton vapes cannabis concentrate before working out to help loosen up stiff muscles and scar tissue as well as his mind. “It’s very uplifting mentally. It allows me to push through that last couple reps,” he told MensHealth.com. “I might be fatiguing, but it gets me into a flow state and allows me to push through.”
If you’re skeptical about marijuana’s fitness benefits, you have reason to be. For years, marijuana has been touted as a treatment for everything from epilepsy to opioid addiction to sleep apnea, so it’s not surprising that some athletes would swear it could help them improve their performance, too.
That said, there’s very little evidence to suggest that toking up before a workout can, in fact, increase your gains. “Cannabis has been shown to be a performance-degrading drug, so for peak performance you should not use cannabis,” says Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist Jordan Tishler, MD. If you’re smoking pot before a new or particularly difficult workout, it can be downright unsafe: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “the more difficult and unpredictable the task, the more likely marijuana will impair [mental and motor] performance.”
But here’s where the alleged benefits come in, says Tishler: “cannabis has been shown to be good for pain control and can be useful while training at non-peak levels. Like a runner’s high, cannabis can help with endurance.”
Integrative cannabis physician Dr. June Chin agrees. Provided an athlete isn’t injured or at risk of hurting themselves, she often suggests they use cannabis “during the training season to help recover, ease pain, and push to the next level. The goal is that they don’t get bogged down by that stubborn knee or lower back pain. They can run the longer distance, be faster and more efficient. They can power through it.”
The evidence is particularly strong for CBD (cannabidiol), a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana (re: it doesn’t get you high) that many athletes claim enhances recovery. Following his UFC bout with Conor McGregor, for instance, a bloodied, bruised, yet laid-back Nate Diaz sat down for a press conference and vaped CBD oil, telling reporters it “helps with the healing process and inflammation and stuff like that.” Diaz isn’t alone in this belief: in fact, the World Anti-Doping Agency was apparently so convinced by CBD’s therapeutic properties that it recently removed CBD from its list of banned substances for 2018.
Now, in a world filled with countless cannabis products and strains that deliver wide-ranging effects, how can you determine which will best support your fitness goals — or, for that matter, if you should be using cannabis at all?
Well, for starters, you should check the legal status of cannabis in your state. You should also probably not dabble in smoking weed before your workout if you were the type of person to, say, get super stoned and freak out when you had a pot brownie in college.
“Each individual varies on how their liver breaks down cannabis and how rapidly it is absorbed into the blood and distributed to the rest of the body, including the brain,” says Chin. “I suggest starting with small doses and not trying a strenuous exercise routine.”
“It’s worth noting that cannabis can impair motor control and judgement, so it should only be used in a safe setting,” Tishler adds. He advises against activities like “street running, cycling, bungee-jumping, and skydiving” (though perhaps the latter two go without saying), and also suggests starting on a small dose.
“Edibles are not great for exercise because they’re so unpredictable about when they’ll kick in that it may not be timed well with your exercise plans,” he says. “A little goes a long way.”